This post is about short-term goals. To see the introductory article about goals and motivation in general, please follow this link.
As we did in the previous article, let’s repeat the basics again in case someone missed them in the introduction. If long-term goals stretch over months and years, short-term goals would stretch over days and weeks. These goals are as important as the long-term goal, but because you complete them much faster, you’re going to have to deal with them more.
Here are a few example of short-term goals:
- Pass the exam on March 5th
- Go through all the sounds in Chinese
- Read five short texts
- Write at least ten diary entries
- Find a language exchange partner
- Learn the lyrics of five songs
Note that except for the first goal, I haven’t specified any deadline, but that’s something you should do. Each goal should have a specific time when it should be accomplished and it should be realistic. Don’t overdo it. If you find that ten diary entries is to easy to do in one month, you can write a few extra anyway. Don’t set goals you can’t reach, it will only make you depressed. Be realistic and increase over time instead.
Take a blank sheet of paper or open a blank document. Write down a couple of things you want to achieve within the coming weeks. Some goals might have a deadline this weekend, others in a month. Compare this list with your long-term goals. Are you lacking anything or are your short-term goals reasonable stepping stones to the higher levels? Remember that it might be hard to focus on everything at the same time, so you might have to favour some areas over others for a time and then switch.
If you’ve done this using a computer, print it out! I’m not joking, this is important. You can’t paste your laptop to the bathroom door (or any other place you pass by frequently), so you need a printed version. Put it somewhere where you can’t miss it (I have my goals on my door).
Clearly stated goals and accountability
The reason “I want to learn Chinese” is a bad goal is because nobody knows what it means. Similarly, “improve my reading ability”, “talk a lot” and “learn more characters” are equally useless. These are directions, not destinations! A goal is good if you can put a box next to it and when you know that you’re done, you can put a tick there. Not only does this make you aware of the fact that you are learning something, that you are moving forwards, but it also gives you the opportunity to think for a few minutes and replace the old goal.
Some people find it useful to make themselves accountable in various ways. If you take a course in Chines, you will naturally receive bad grades if you fail, but what about these goals you have defined for yourself? There are many ways to do this and I don’t think they are all suitable for all kinds of learners, but you should at least try them out once!
Tell people about your goals
Start a blog, write on Facebook or Twitter, talk to your family, anything you can think of, but do something to let other people know what you’re doing and when you’re supposed to be done. Ask people to ask you how it’s going, have someone check the deadlines for you. This is usually a fairly powerful tool to achieve short-term goals, but don’t overdo it. Only create hard goals for yourself when you know what you’re doing. Also, you have to realise that simply stating your goal is not the same as achieving it. When I say accountability, I mean that someone should actually check how’s it going, not that you just tell people about your goal.
Make yourself financially accountable
Pick a friend you trust (or a family member) and give him or her a significant sum of money (I’ve been using roughly one hundred dollars, which is quite a lot for a student, but this should vary according to your situation; the importance is that it feels like a significant amount money for you). Then you say that if you haven’t achieved a given goal before the deadline, they can keep the money (see why the goal has to be clear here?). It’s vitally important that you give the money and then get it back when you’re done, don’t promise to give money away if you fail!
These are only examples, some of them hopefully suit you, others perhaps not so much. In any case, you need to try and you need to be creative to come up with ways that work for you.
Keeping a record
I think it’s motivating to keep a record of short-term goals I have accomplished. Either you can move them all to a separate sheet or file on your computer where you simply list all the things you have done. In case you every feel like you’re not learning anything or that you’re studying is standing still, take a look at the list. I usually find that I’ve learnt more things than I think I have!